Bring together an internationally renowned circus aerialist who grew up on a tree farm and an arborist intent on educating the world about the future of our forests, and what do you get? A magical experience that satisfies soul and body in a workshop where the breath of humans and the earth intertwine.
And just plain fun that defies gravity.
After touring the world with such companies as Cirque du Soleil and Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey, winning awards along the way for their inventive duo trapeze act in Europe and China, Serenity Smith Forchion and her twin sister Elsie Smith in 2021 settled into southern Vermont. Their father runs a sawmill and raises beef on Sunrise Farm in Guilford and the vaulted roof of the barn gave space to set up an indoor trapeze space for the sisters to rehearse. They co-founded Nimble Arts performing company as well as the not-for-profit education center the New England Center for Circus Arts, which has expanded to be the leading circus school in the United States.
Originally, Forchion discovered harness dancing on walls through colleagues in England where she was leading advanced aerial circus workshops. As an in-demand trapeze artist and aerial teacher, she was accustomed to traveling the world performing and choreographing. But when the pandemic hit and travel was canceled, Forchion looked into outdoor performance options, and along the way met Mark Przekurat, an arborist trainer whose own international travels as a teacher of tree workers and rope safety were curtailed. The two hit off a friendship around trees, ropes, nature meditation, and safety leadership in their respective industries and began collaborating on outdoor performances.
“I’ve expanded my knowledge of rope techniques through what Mark has shared with me from the arborist industry, how to climb trees keeping both the dancers and the trees safe,” explains Forchion while enthusiastically inviting everyone to try it. “The rope and harness make the experience of dancing and doing acrobatics with the trees lower impact on the body, so it’s something that most people can do once they learn how to use the rope assist to climb.”
Workshops are open to any curious movers—aerialist, climber, researcher, dancer, arborist, acrobat, explorer—no prior experience necessary. The harnesses and ropes allow participants to leap and fly without the impact of landing back on the earth, making it achievable by non-dancers, while also expanding what dancers can do with trees as a performance element.
The workshops start with practical knot tying and gear checking as well as a meditation where students are invited to consider the trees they are about to climb. “I aim to bring trees more focus within our human awareness,” Forchion shares the concepts of the workshop. “It’s very calming and therapeutic to spend time in the branches, feeling the sway of the wind, discovering the micro ecosystems that live in the crooks of the branches, and looking out on the world from a high vantage point. We take that experience into our bodies, dance with that knowledge, and then bring it back to earth and hopefully value the interconnectedness and interdependence of the earth and humans more.”
In 2021, Forchion and Przekurat collaborated on what became an award-winning short film for the Juno Project, sharing through the dance film the critical importance of trees amidst the backdrop of climate change. “Seven trees breathe for each human but many may not survive the quickly changing temperatures and other stressors,” Forchion said, sharing what she learned in an early workshop with Przekurat. In the film, Forchion is suspended from a harness around her hips attached to a rope high up in a tree. She spins and cartwheels in midair, framed by the shimmering leaves of the trees around her in shots taken from a drone camera high in the tree canopy.
In their workshops offered to the public, segments of learning the ropes of climbing, exploring the techniques of harness-based dance that Forchion has choreographed, and ascending high into the canopies of the trees are balanced by walks discovering the life cycle of the forest and conversations about the vital role trees play in keeping humans alive and what we as individuals can do to affect climate change.
For summer 2023, Mark and Serenity are offering tree dancing workshops in Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York, including ones in Brattleboro June 30 – July 2, and Weare, NH, August 11 – 13.
For more information, visit www.nimblearts.org or call (802) 318-2639.
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